Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) Know the Signs, Characteristics & How to Help
SPD Know the Signs, Characteristics & How to Help
What do you think when you see the following?
- A child crying in the corner hiding behind a chair.
- A child who chews on something at all times or constantly is mouthing objects.
- A child who is spinning on his chair when he is watching T.V. or who constantly has to be moving and can not seem to sit still.
- A child who will only eat noodles and yogurt.
- A child who has to have a certain pair of socks on each day.
What do these children all have in common?
The answer is that they all show signs of Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD.
- The child crying in the corner is having a temper tantrum for no reason.
- The child chewing something was just bored.
- The child spinning in his chair should just stop and maybe go outside to play.
- The child who eats only noodles and yogurt should be made to eat other food (the “they will eat when they are hungry” philosophy). A parent may also be told “you are the parent, do not let your child tell you what to do!”.
Although each of these reactions differ, they all have one thing in common: Each of these children has a neurological system that is “wired” to process incoming information from the environment differently than children with typical neurological systems. There are eight senses that influence how we respond to information in the environment.
These systems are:
- Vision (what a person sees);
- Auditory (how you hear information);
- Taste (is something spicy, cold/hot, sweet);
- Smell (does this smell good or bad);
- Tactile (touch);
- Proprioceptive (the pressure your bones, joints and muscles receive);
- Vestibular (movement)
- Interoceptive (the process that tells us what is happening in our bodies, bones, skin, tissue and organs).
SPD affects many, many children. Some are affected in a minor way, while others are affected greatly.
If you are a parent who thinks that any of the above behaviors look familiar, you are truly not alone.
We will tell you from personal experience that the child is not doing any of these things on purpose. They are not trying to hold up the entire morning routine to have everyone search for that last sock. What they are doing is finding their place in the world where situations that may be routine to many of us can feel confusing, overwhelming and out of their control. Seeking solutions for them is the first step—but just as critical is becoming the voice and the champion for the child and educating everyone involved in your child’s life (teachers, therapists, physicians AND family and friends). Learning how to help them is the best thing you can do and once you do it, it becomes so important to advocate for the child to those who will be working with your child
You want everyone to have a full understanding of how your child processes the world around them so they will see the behaviors (or reactions) through correct eyes. If a child’s reactions are seen as a bad behavior and are misunderstood, then the action taken to correct that “behavior” will be incorrect. The underlying cause of the “behavior” or reaction will not be resolved and the “behaviors” can get more intense. The cycle will just repeat itself with ever increasing anxiety and frustration from the child. If the cycle continues the child will be thought of as a “bad kid” or a “problem child”.
If you suspect your child’s behavior might fall under SPD, educate yourself—start researching the disorder. There are several recognized sites, but a good place to start is: www.spdstar.org The site includes warning signs of SPD, as well as helpful resources and checklists—these checklists, are helpful baselines and provide a visual representation of where your child MIGHT be on the SPD range (we have included a checklist in the back of the article for quick reference). Typically, we will see children who have either an aversive reaction to input from the environment (over-responsive) or children who have little or no reaction from input in the environment (under responsive). There are some children that also are sensory seeking or craving. These are children that cannot seem to “get enough” of an activity or an input. However, when they are given the input, for example, A child who loves to jump and will constantly jump is given a trampoline, the child’s response to the input does not seem to “regulate” them or calm them. Instead of giving the child what they are “seeking” has the opposite effect; the child seems to have more energy and is bouncing off the wall.
Get your child evaluated and, ideally, get a diagnosis. This will involve some research on the parent/caregivers’ part because testing resources vary considerably across the country certain. This is where playing the advocate is so important—there may be a need to travel to get the best resources.
- A developmental pediatrician
- A neuro-psychologist
- A pediatric neurologist
This is where those checklists can help you explain and advocate for your child — bring them with you to each appointment, as well as your diaries or logs (Again, we offer a PDF to help you)
It is will be much easier to discuss your child’s situation when you have been tracking their behavior with credible dates and observations and can provide a copy. Trying to remember these situations “off the top of your head” can oftentimes have “gaps” in the retelling.
There are several types of therapy that could be recommended depending on the needs of your child. There is Occupational Therapy (OT), Speech Therapy (ST/SLP) and Physical Therapy (PT)
After the diagnosis, it is time to look for and schedule therapy for your child. Although other disciplines may have the training, an occupational therapist is typically the discipline that has the most knowledge, so the majority of your research will be focused on finding an occupational therapist who is trained in sensory processing or sensory integration.
Most activities will likely take place at a therapy center and are “immersive therapy”, so you and your child will be given “homework” to maintain momentum. Here are some forms of activities and/or items used:
- Temperature or texture of food
- Gum chewing
- Using TalkTools bite tube hierarchy
- A weighted vest or blanket
- A sensory table
- Using calming or alerting scents or no scent at all
The Occupational Therapist may recommend these in order to give your child the opportunity to help them learn to “regulate” or maintain an appropriate arousal level in order to participate in the daily activities of life in a positive and productive manner. Although these are seemingly “everyday” activities, to ensure appropriate clinical oversight and safety, activities should be demonstrated and overseen by the professional who is implementing your child’s therapy plans.
Once you begin to do these therapies at home and really understand how SPD affects your child, it becomes easy to see just how important these therapies are. Once the successes begin, it is amazing to see the progress and happiness that is added to your life and your child’s.
Get Everyone to See Clearly
Your child’s ability to process the information coming into their senses correctly does not just happen in one setting only. This ability to interpret the environment around them is happening throughout the day in many settings. It becomes even more important that ANY and ALL persons working with your child understand them right away. As you will learn quickly, if the child and their needs are understood from the beginning, then daily activities will go much more smoothly and anxiety will decrease: Yours and your child’s.
In your mind, run through your child: you’ll quickly see how many people your child comes into contact with: Family members, teachers, support staff, office staff, school nurse you get the idea.
We know that list is long but it is so important that everyone has an understanding of how your child processes information. Remember, when you interact with these people, you are trying to convey a lifetime of concerns about your child into a three-minute conversation. You are trying to teach something, that is more than likely, a brand new topic. That is a lot to ask of anyone, especially someone as emotionally vested and protective as a parent or caregiver!
So we wanted to help facilitate the link between the actions/responses your child is currently exhibiting, the reactions of the people around your child and what you are doing to help support these reactions.
We have developed a letter and checklist for you to download and print to share with everyone who are part of your child’s life. Have the letter speak for you, to open productive and positive conversations about your child and their needs and to allow you to provide consistent and accurate information.
Your Child’s School Needs to Know
A new school year is fast approaching. That letter needs to make its way to your child’s school.
If it is the first time you are talking to the school- we advise meeting your child’s teacher well ahead of the “Meet and Greet the Teacher Night”—and sit down and discuss your child’s situation with plenty of time for Q&A. That crazy night is not the time to tell a new teacher about a new child she has never met. That and the fact that 24 other parents are telling her things as well. This may be a good time to schedule your child to tour the school or their new classroom in order to ease anxiety the first day.
We strongly recommend sharing the letter with any school therapists or counselors that your child might have. We say “might” because if your child has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or 504 plan in place, you will know for certain that they will be having therapy at school.
But if you have just recently gotten the diagnosis and are awaiting testing from the school to determine the need for an IEP, then 11′ providing the letter to the therapists at the school will allow them to understand your child’s needs before they are to work with him/her for testing purposes. It is all about making sure that all eyes are seeing things the same way.
Every school year, use the letter to bridge your current situation with your child and the school. You can update the letter to include successes made over the summer and concerns you have.
Keeping everyone up to date and currently allows all the gains made to be continued, not lost or not worked on because a therapist did not know and began working on something else.
Keep in touch with the school. Two parent-teacher conferences a year is not enough for SPD kids. We recommend monthly communications.
Even better: A communication notebook shared between home and the school. These notebooks allow for daily communication. They help make sure nothing is going on that needs to be talked about or that necessitates changes be made. The notebook contains a checklist of concerns or a 1-5 number system for major areas of concern. Here is an example: Did my child have a meltdown Yes/No Explain:
It is your child’s journey—make your notebook and checklist based on their needs and yours!
BRINGING IT TOGETHER All Eyes-And Minds-Seeing The Same Thing
SPD and your child’s needs is a continuous evolution. Being an educated advocate is vital; making sure that scenarios like those described here are seen the same way by everyone who will be part of your child’s journey.
Michele Gianetti is a mom of three, a nurse, an author and an advocate for her daughter Elizabeth, who has SPD and Global Dyspraxia. She also helps raise awareness for these disorders through her website in her name, her blogs and her work on social media. She is the author or the book title “I Believe In You: A Mother and Daughter’s Special Journey” and her second book, a children’s story, titled “Emily’s Sister” was just released.
Monica Purdy, MA, CCC-SLP has more than 14 years of professional experience specializing in helping children with special needs to communicate. She is PROMPT and SOS trained, familiar with sign language and well-versed in the use of augmentative devices. Owner of Kids Abilities in Indianapolis, IN. In addition to her private practice, Monica is a member of the TalkTools® speakers bureau.
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This post originally appeared on our July/August 2017 Magazine